Swansea University new research project will help save UK forests, woods and trees

Swansea University has won a share of a £7m funding pot which will develop research into improving the understanding of tree pests and pathogens, and associated plant biosecurity and help address threats to UK forests, woods and trees.

Swansea University’s research is one of seven new research projects to receive funding under the multi-disciplinary Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THAPBI) which will generate knowledge to tackle pests and diseases and to support the future health of the UK's woodlands, commercial forests and urban trees. The societal benefits of the UK’s trees are estimated at around £1.8 billion per year.

Swansea’s project, led by Professor Tariq Butt, receives £900K for its research into the Biological Pest Control of Insect Pests that Threaten Tree Health (BIPESCO).

A number of insects pose a threat to UK trees and plant biosecurity. The Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce set up by government recently recommended that the UK develops and implements ways to predict, monitor and control the spread of pests.

adult pine weevil damage to twigSpeaking about the Swansea University project Professor Butt said:

“ We are delighted with the award of funding for our interdisciplinary project that will use botanicals and biocontrol with entomopathogenic fungi (EPF) to kill and control insect pests that pose a threat to UK trees. BIPESCO will develop these natural alternatives to conventional chemical pesticides, of which usage is being severely restricted.

  Healthy and fungus affected black vine weevil “ The aim of BIPESCO is to identify the strains of EPF that are most pathogenic to current and emergent pest species to utilise as efficient control, alongside botanicals that attract or repel target pests. The researchers will use botanicals to concentrate the pests and expose them to EPF and other agents in “lure and kill” and “stress and kill” strategies, increasing knowledge of the underlying mechanisms involved in control. BIPESCO’s outputs will offer environmentally friendly, sustainable methods of pest control, benefitting many sectors directly and indirectly.”

In the last few years, several new pests and diseases have emerged as significant risks to tree health and plant biosecurity. Changes in trade in plants and plant products may also contribute to the risk of new pests and diseases entering the UK. Climate change may also be increasing the risk of these pests and diseases spreading.

Environment Minister Lord de Mauley said:                     

“Safeguarding the future of our trees and plants is enormously important — on more than one occasion we have seen the dreadful trail of destruction such diseases can leave behind. And it’s not just the environment that suffers, but the economy too. It is vital we invest in research like this to better protect our precious woodland from the future threat of pest and disease.”

The new research projects will help to counter these threats by informing and evaluating potential control, mitigation or adaptation strategies. The projects will also generate natural and social scientific knowledge to improve understanding of the environmental, economic and social impacts of changes in tree health.The projects focus on: new approaches for the early detection of problems; understanding public concerns; increasing resilience against tree disease outbreaks; finding genetic clues to better tree health; biological control of insect pests; and understanding ash dieback.

THAPBI is funded under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change Partnership with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Economic and Social Research Council, Forestry Commission, Natural Environment Research Council and the Scottish Government.

The research will address knowledge gaps identified by Defra’s Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Task Force and the objectives of the joint Defra/Forestry Commission ‘Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan’. The projects will also ensure that the UK has increased research capacity in these areas.

The Seven projects funded under the initiative are:

  • Population structure and natural selection in the Chalara ash dieback fungus, Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus - approx. £635K

Led by Professor James Brown, the John Innes Centre

  •  Identifying genomic resources against pests and pathogens in tree genera: a case study in Fraxinus - approx. £760K

Led by Dr Richard Buggs, Queen Mary, University of London

  •  Biological pest control of insect pests that threaten tree health - approx. £900K

Led by Professor Tariq Butt, Swansea University

  •  Promoting resilience of UK tree species to novel pests and pathogens: ecological and evolutionary solutions - approx. £1.4M

Led by Dr Stephen Cavers, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

  •  Modelling economic impact and strategies to increase resilience against tree disease outbreaks - approx. £900K

Led by Dr Adam Kleczkowski, University of Stirling

  •  New approaches for the early detection of tree health pests and pathogens - approx. £1.9M

Led by Dr Rick Mumford, Food & Environment Research Agency (Fera)

  •  Understanding public risk concerns: an investigation into the social perception, interpretation and communication of tree health risks - approx. £615K

Led by Dr Clive Potter, Imperial College London


Picture 1 - Healthy adult pine weevil showing feeding damage of conifer twig.

Picture 2 - Healthy and mycosed (fungus infected) black vine weevil larvae.